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Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2006

Volume 684: debated on Monday 24 July 2006

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 July be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee and 42nd Report from the Merits Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides a power for the Home Secretary to proscribe an organisation which he believes is concerned in terrorism. This is done by adding the organisation to Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which lists proscribed organisations. An organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism or is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

This power was extended by Section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006 to include those organisations which glorify the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism. Glorification includes any form of praise or celebration of acts of terrorism. We are therefore now able to take action against those who make statements which create a climate that supports and fuels terrorism.

The order we have before us today lists four organisations that we believe are concerned in terrorism. These are: Al-Ghurabaa; the Saved Sect; the Baluchistan Liberation Army, or BLA; and Teyrebaz Azadiye Kurdistan, or TAK. Two of these organisations, Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, are being proscribed under the new glorification provisions and this is the first time that they have been used. The other two organisations, the BLA and TAK, are directly involved in acts of terrorism.

When deciding on whether to make an order proscribing a group, a number of additional factors are taken into account and these were published in 2001. They are: the nature and scale of an organisation’s activities; the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom; the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom and the need to support other members of the international community in their fight against terrorism.

Proscription of an organisation is a very serious matter. It means that the organisation is outlawed in the United Kingdom and it is illegal for it to operate here. The 2000 Act makes it a criminal offence to belong to or invite support for a proscribed organisation. It is also an offence to arrange a meeting which will support or further the activities of, or which will be addressed by, someone who belongs to such an organisation. Finally, a person commits an offence if they wear clothing or carry or display articles which provide a reasonable suspicion that they are a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.

It is important to note here that any organisation that is proscribed, or anyone affected by a proscription, can appeal to the Home Secretary for the organisation to be deproscribed. If this is refused, the applicant can appeal to the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC). Given the wide-ranging impact of proscription, the decision to put forward a group for proscription is taken only after a thorough review of all the relevant information. This includes open source material as well as intelligence material and advice that reflect consultations across government and with the law enforcement agencies.

Proscribing the four groups in the order will send a clear message that the United Kingdom takes seriously its role in fighting terrorism. We all know that the nature of terrorism has changed, that the structures used are more fluid and international and that there are organisations that recruit and radicalise as well as those that actually commit terrible acts of violence against innocent civilians.

It is against this background that we must consider all the steps we can take to protect our citizens from terrorism. This involves difficult decisions and judgments but the overriding responsibility must be to protect the public. Part of that is about making it harder for those organisations that are involved in terrorism, both directly and indirectly, to operate. That is what proscription does.

I turn to the organisations in the order. Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect use the internet as their main medium. The two organisations are closely connected and both are successor organisations to Al-Muhajiroun, which was run by Omar Bakri. They use the internet to attack the values of our society and to praise those who want to use violence for ideological aims. They spread a message that is aimed at the young and the vulnerable and which indirectly encourages them to emulate terrorist acts. For example, the Al-Ghurabaa group explicitly refused to condemn the July 7 bombings and a spokesperson has said:

“What I would say about those who do suicide operations or martyrdom operations is they’re completely praiseworthy”.

There is also material on the Al-Ghurabaa website that says:

“We do believe in Jihad, we do believe in violence, we do believe in terrorizing the enemy of Allah”.

They talk about Osama bin Laden being a lion and of his opponents,

“treading a downhill path of destruction and humiliation”,

and of the USA being

“forced to kneel down towards him”.

The Saved Sect churns out similar propaganda. It talks about the only solution being violent Jihad. This is not freedom of speech but an abuse of those freedoms, and it is an insidious attack on the values we hold dear in our culture.

The case with the BLA and TAK is different. These are organisations directly concerned with terrorism—organisations that have claimed responsibility for some dreadful atrocities. For example, the BLA has claimed responsibility for attacks going back to at least 2004, including the murder of Chinese engineers in February 2006 and nine bombings at railway stations during 2005. TAK has also claimed responsibility for attacks in Turkey since 2004, including a bomb attack on an internet café in Istanbul. Although these organisations are not based in the United Kingdom, they pose a threat to our citizens as the tragic death of British citizens in a bomb attack by TAK in the Turkish resort of Kusadasi in 2005 demonstrates.

Given the nature of the organisations listed in this order, we invite your Lordships to agree that it is quite right that we should proscribe them, and I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 July be approved [34th Report from the Joint Committee and 42nd Report from the Merits Committee].—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the terms of the order.

My honourable friend Mr Patrick Mercer, the shadow Minister for Homeland Security, made it clear when this matter was debated in another place last Thursday that we strongly support the making of the order. The police and security services have an intensely difficult task to perform in protecting the public from the threats and activities of extremist groups. That task is made even more testing when such groups change, chameleon-like, either their name or their organisational links and methods.

The proscription of an organisation is indeed a serious matter; and it has serious consequences. The organisation is outlawed in the United Kingdom and it is therefore illegal for it to operate here. The Minister was right to remind us that the Terrorism Act makes it a criminal offence to belong to, or invite support for, a proscribed organisation. It is also illegal to arrange meetings for them or to wear items that indicate support for such an illegal organisation.

It is a serious step for Parliament to proscribe organisations, but it is important to take such measures where they are justified. We believe that these measures are justified and we support the proscription of the four organisations listed in the order.

As the report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee points out, three of the groups are understood to be seeking support or funding in the UK. The fourth poses a threat to British tourists in Turkey. I note, of course, that the first two organisations listed, Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect, also known as the Saviour Sect, are here as a consequence of the broadening of the Government’s powers under the 2006 Act. We do not object to that, just as we do not object to the principle of what the Government are trying to achieve today. There was a difference of view about drafting, but this is not the time to revisit old arguments. We support the Government’s measures today, which are justified under the terminology, either theirs or ours, that was used in discussions in this House. We fully agree that these two organisations should be proscribed along with the Baluchistan Liberation Army and TAK.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister which cover some of the matters highlighted by my honourable friend Mr Mercer. The first two organisations on the list are part, but only part, of the remnants of a much larger organisation that was established by Omar Bakri Mohammed. Will the Minister give assurances that systems are in place to review the position with regard specifically to the other remnants of Al-Muhajiroun? I realise, of course, that where it is clear that there has simply been a change of name to get round the proscription, the Government are able to bring forward an order subject only to negative resolution to proscribe the organisation under its new name. That is the procedure that the Government have rightly taken with regard to KADEK and Kongra Gele Kurdistan—I apologise if I pronounced the name incorrectly—the successor to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. I note that the Proscribed Organisations (Name Changes) Order 2006 was tabled on the same day as this affirmative instrument, 17 July.

Can the Minister say something about the continuing review of the need for such orders, both negative and affirmative? Can she also tell the House what direct action is taken by the police to deal with organisations after they are proscribed? Are their assets seized? Are their publications or websites closed down? The noble Baroness will know that I am particularly concerned about what happens if the internet service provider refuses to close down the site, or closes it down but allows the organisation to open up a new site with a different web address. How may we deal with that? What happens if the internet service provider is not based in the United Kingdom? Is there co-operation with ISPs based elsewhere? We strongly support the order.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the order. It is impossible to have a detailed discussion about the merits of proscribing these four groups to assess whether it is right to proscribe them. Of necessity, the Government must work on the accuracy of the intelligence that they receive. It is difficult for those of us who are out of the loop, so to speak, to make meaningful comment about the individual organisations.

Notwithstanding what the Minister told us about the order, we can ask what the organisations have been up to in this country. Have other European Union member states, for example, imposed proscriptions on them? For that matter, have any other Government asked us to proscribe them? Clearly, if there has been evidence of any of the organisations being involved in terrorist activity on the ground, we will support the Government. But with this order, we enter into the realm of glorification of terrorism, with the two organisations Al-Ghurabaa and the Saved Sect. It would be interesting to know the Government’s reasons for proscribing them, although the Minister has given some explanation.

I have been unable to find out much on either organisation, so we must trust the Government’s deeper knowledge of them at this stage. It is very difficult, however, to keep track of the plethora of organisations, which seem to spring up daily. Is the Minister satisfied that all the organisations in this country that appear to have links to terrorism are being monitored? Conversely, are the Government also testing the appropriateness of organisations on the proscribed list? Will they, for instance, on humanitarian grounds, look again at the proscription of the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran, the PMOI, whose leaders and supporters worldwide are seeking democratic government in Iran? For example, among many state-initiated atrocities, Iran has apparently persuaded the Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr Nouri al-Maliki, to end the presence of the PMOI—who are protected persons under the fourth Geneva Convention and so entitled to political asylum—in the northern Iraq camp Ashraf City. Iraq, on Iran’s instigation, has cut off food and water for the many women and children living there. Do the Government feel that it is time to look again at the proscription of the PMOI? I simply ask the question.

Of course, it is of the utmost importance that we protect our citizens from the very real and present danger of terrorism, but we must use the considerable powers that the Government now have as carefully as possible. There are apparently many connected parts to the proscribed organisations, and perhaps one way of disrupting their activities would be to do what we do so well in Northern Ireland—seize their assets in this country, shut down their websites, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has suggested, and prosecute for incitement. Those are all lesser, yet firm, acts than acts of proscription, which should apply only to the most serious terrorist organisations.

I will end by quoting my honourable friend the Member for Somerton and Frome speaking in another place:

“We must be careful not to assume, simply because we do not like—and may abhor—an organisation, that we, as a state, should stop it being able to undertake its functions in this country. We should always, when possible, use the normal criminal law to ensure that people are charged with proper offences in court and that, if they are found guilty, they pay the appropriate penalty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/06; col. 503.]

My Lords, I will not attempt to name any of the four organisations, because I am sure I would get them wrong. I say at once that I have no difficulty at all with the third and fourth of the organisations. I have questions about the first two organisations. First, could they in fact have been proscribed under the existing law without having resort to the 2006 Act? Secondly, could the Minister give us some indication of the membership of the first two organisations in the United Kingdom? How many people will be affected by the proscription? Thirdly, she has not mentioned Hizb ut-Tahrir. There was a strong rumour at one stage that it would be proscribed under the new legislation. I am very glad if it be the fact that it has not been. Has a decision been taken not to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir?

My Lords, I follow briefly the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who referred to the PMOI, which was proscribed in 2001 and is one of the bodies listed in Schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000, the list to which four bodies are to be added today. I do not expect the Minister to be forthcoming tonight, not least because an application for the deproscription of the PMOI is currently before the Home Secretary. But I like to think that even if a formal application had not been made, the Government would have hastened to carry out a review of the case, not least because of the very careful words of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his recent report on the terrorism legislation. He expressed the hope that the Government’s working group responsible for scrutinising proscription would give serious examination to whether the PMOI really should remain proscribed.

The PMOI always looked very different from the other bodies listed in the schedule. For a start, the Government accepted that it had undertaken no military action outside Iran and had never attacked UK or Western interests. Plainly, its activities were of concern to no country other than Iran, and proscription was at Iran’s behest and borne of an understandable wish that we should be seen to be playing a full part in the international community’s fight against terrorism. How things have changed since 2001. There have been changes in the PMOI's activities and in its international status. In 2001 it ceased all military operations, which were even then aimed exclusively at military targets of the Iranian regime. With the outbreak of hostilities in Iraq, its personnel in Ashraf City, Iraq, handed over all their weaponry to the multinational force and, following an investigation which,

“found no basis to charge PMOI members with violations of the law”,

they were granted “protected persons” status under the Geneva Conventions. It is an odd circumstance in itself that we are proscribing such an organisation as a terrorist organisation.

The activities of others since 2001 are even more significant than those of the PMOI. Ironically, the Iranian regime at whose behest the PMOI was proscribed is now recognised as one of the world's greatest sponsors of terrorism—the terrorism which we were supposed to be helping it to fight. Our Prime Minister himself says so. Only the other day he laid the blame for the crisis in the Middle East at the door of Syria and Iran, saying that the Iranian regime supported terrorist activity across the region and Hezbollah in particular. He also added bleakly that if diplomacy failed to stop its nuclear programme it would face stark choices. I do not wish to see Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, and I do not wish to see military intervention by the West to prevent it becoming a nuclear military power. I am on the side of the leader of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, who calls for the people of Iran to take control of their own destiny and themselves get rid of this vicious and barbaric regime.

By attaching the terrorist tag to the only organisation capable of opposing the mullahs, we have been legitimising their rule. We have enabled them to argue that, faced with what the West apparently recognises is a terrorist threat, they have been entitled to take brutal measures within their country. On top of that, proscription has certainly weakened gravely the ability of the PMOI to present its case in America and Europe. It has stopped it engaging in political activity to gather support and build up opposition to the regime. It has made it more difficult to bring to public attention the crimes of the regime. It cannot possibly be for our benefit or that of the international community to hamper the activities of a body which represents a broad alliance of democratic forces in Iran and is the opponent of this terrible regime. If the terror label is removed from the PMOI, and all restrictions placed by the West on the Iranian resistance are removed, there is just a hope—one cannot put it higher than that—of democracy and freedom coming to Iran and this bleak period in Iran's history coming to an end.

I repeat that I do not expect a reply to the points I have made tonight but I beg the noble Baroness, in her deliberations, to bear in mind what I have said.

My Lords, as noble Lords will be relieved to know, I can be relatively brief as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has clearly and precisely outlined the ground that I had intended to cover. However, I will make a preliminary point relating to the debate in the other place at the end of last week. At that time Mr David Heath, my colleague, took up the point made earlier by Dr Rudi Vis that we should, both in the other place and here, have the opportunity and the time to deal with each organisation separately. Because we do not have that—because we are dealing with a list of 21 proscribed organisations—you have a wholly unfocused debate. That is not sensible.

I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, except perhaps to dot a few “i”s and cross a few “t”s. He remarked that the PMOI had never—I repeat never—been responsible for any attacks on British nationals, European Union nationals or United States nationals. When introducing the proscription list, Mr McNulty said in the other place last week:

“When deciding whether to make an order proscribing a group, several additional factors are taken into account”.

Those include,

“the specific threat that it poses to the United Kingdom, the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas, the organisation’s presence in the United Kingdom, and the need to support other members of the international community in their fight against terrorism”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/06; col. 491.]

I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, or I or any other Member who has contributed would contest that but, as he has already pointed out, you cannot accuse the PMOI of being responsible for those.

I find it very puzzling; in fact, I find the Government’s position on the PMOI inexplicable. On one hand, you have a frank admission from the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, that the proscription was initiated and pushed by him—there is no doubt that it was pushed by Britain within the European Union—as a consequence of a direct request by the Iranian regime to him at the beginning of the negotiations which were designed to try to reduce the nuclear programme that it was following. Then you have, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, observed, the remark by the Prime Minister from the Dispatch Box in another place that the same Iranian regime that requested this is now a recognised state exporter of terrorism to the whole of the Middle East. Indeed, it goes further afield than that. It goes into Europe—there have been events in Berlin—and even to south America. I do not understand.

Likewise I do not understand why, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, the Government do not take a more favourable and supportive attitude towards the NCRI, which supports democracy, human rights, equality of women, law and the separation of church and state—all things that the theocratic dictatorship in Iran despises, but which we very much uphold.

My Lords, none of your Lordships would wish to challenge the fact that it is the duty of Governments to protect their citizens from terrorist activities. I neither challenge that nor wish to say anything about the four organisations listed, because the Secretary of State, his department and his Ministers have a knowledge of the facts that I, at any rate, and I suspect most of your Lordships do not share. However, as the Minister indicated, it is important to make a careful investigation when a body is proscribed, because of the serious effect on not only the activity of its members and supporters, but on those interested in its political activities.

It is most important that, from time to time, there should be a serious review of the activities of that body to see whether proscription continues to be justified. All parties in the House have accepted that as a proposition. Unless that is done, there is a serious risk not only of injustice to individuals, but that there will be abuse of the freedom of speech and the freedom to ventilate political opinion. I therefore hope that the Minister will reiterate that the Government accept the importance of this kind of review.

As the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said, this is not the right occasion to ask the Minister to give a ruling on a specific organisation such as the PMOI—although the noble Lord has given very strong grounds indicating what the Minister’s answer should be. I wish to adopt a lower key, and a lesser demand, although I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.

It is essential that this review should be carried out in depth and seriously. When one body on the proscribed list was said by the Foreign Secretary at the time of proscription to have never committed any terrorist offences in the United Kingdom; when, after many months of deep interrogation and inquiry by the American security authorities of PMOI members in the Ashraf camp in Iraq, there was no evidence of terrorist activities; when a raid by the French police on the headquarters of a body produced according to the press, nothing that could indicate any kind of terrorist activity, and when the umbrella body of that organisation is not listed as a proscribed organisation, surely the Government are under a clear and powerful duty to investigate and to be really satisfied that this proscription continues to be justified. If it is not justified, then serious injustice may be done and there may be a restriction on freedom of speech and on democracy that we in this country should not seek to establish a record for upholding.

I therefore urge the Minister to consider accepting—even if she cannot give us an indication tonight, although I hope that she will—that the Government need seriously, carefully, fairly and openly to consider the position of the PMOI, not as one of a group of 10, 15 or 20 organisations, but as an independent body whose record over the past few years can be investigated in great depth. If she does so, then I suggest, with great respect, that the answer may well be the one expected by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. They accepted that she was not expected to give the answer tonight, but thought that it would be a good idea for her to give it pretty soon.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported this order, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who has given such trenchant support to the orders and the necessity for them. I hope that I will be able to provide comfort to other noble Lords, too.

I can give the assurance sought by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, on how we review such organisations. We keep under review a large number of organisations, although I cannot comment on specific details about them. However, I hope that your Lordships will be reassured to know that that is done by the proscription working group which brings together officials from the Security Service, the police, No. 10 Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Home Office. If it was assessed that an organisation no longer met the criteria for proscription, then it would be considered for deproscription.

A number of noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, the noble Lords, Lord Russell-Johnston and Lord Waddington, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, specifically mentioned the PMOI. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is correct in saying that an application regarding that organisation is currently before the Home Secretary. It would therefore be wholly improper for me to say anything at all about it. However, I can assure noble Lords that what has been said in this Chamber will be noted. It will be brought to the attention of those who have to consider these matters and I am sure that it will have some effect. I cannot say what the effect will be, of course, but I can assure your Lordships that it will be considered appropriately.

I turn to the specific questions on internet service providers. As noble Lords will know, proscription means that it is a criminal offence to be a member of a proscribed organisation, or to distribute or circulate a terrorist publication to provide a service that enables others to obtain, read, listen to or look at such a publication, or to transmit electronically such a publication. We have therefore worked very hard with ISPs to look at that issue. For instance, we understand that the Al-Ghurabaa website was hosted in the United Kingdom and that the Saved Sect was hosted overseas. The company hosting the Al-Ghurabaa website has withdrawn its services. We are working with the police to consider possible enforcement actions, including the use of notices issued under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006, which requires the removal of offending material from the internet. We know from experience in other areas such as child pornography that it is more difficult to deal with websites based overseas. The only way to tackle the issue is through international collaboration in the fight against terrorism, in which we are actively engaged. I can therefore assure the noble Baroness that we will take all appropriate action to deal with it.

Proscription means that the police can apply to a magistrates’ court for the forfeiture of an organisation’s assets. If appropriate, that can certainly be done.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, asked whether two of the organisations could have been proscribed under previous provisions as opposed to those involving glorification. It would have been very difficult under the old regime to so proscribe them. The specific nature of their activities does, however, fall squarely within the new glorification provision. There is therefore no ambiguity or difficulty in the current legislation. I think that it is arguable whether that would have been appropriate, or possible, under the old legislation.

I cannot give noble Lords specific details on the position regarding membership in the United Kingdom of those organisations. As noble Lords will know, however, it is not simply a matter of organisations that operate here or have a membership here. Their membership in other areas can have an effect here, and they fall within that remit.

On each of the four groups I hope that I have been able to assure noble Lords that appropriate steps have already been taken, and that they can be taken in reviewing those already proscribed and those that will be proscribed by this order. These are important matters. I agree that the consequences of proscription can be profound and far reaching. We therefore have to be most judicious in assessing who should or should not be on the list and when, and if it is possible, to remove those who may have properly been proscribed at one stage but no longer merit such proscription. It is an ongoing issue. A constant review, as opposed to simply a one-time review, is critical, as we must continue to assess the propriety of the continued proscription of each of the organisations.

I hope that I have assured noble Lords sufficiently to enable me to commend the order to the House without further ado.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 8.30 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.10 to 8.30 pm.]